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Parliament passes amendment allowing EC to hold local elections amid emergency

Mariyam Malsa
19 January 2021, MVT 19:06
Majlis independent bodies committee meets members of elections commission.
Mariyam Malsa
19 January 2021, MVT 19:06

The parliament, on Tuesday, passed an amendment to the "Special Bill for the Local Council Elections 2020" to enable the Elections Commission (EC) to conduct the already delayed polls before the end of the ongoing state of public health emergency.

As per the sunset bill, passed by the parliament on April 30, 2020, EC can only host the local council and Women Development Committee (WDC) elections once the presently-declared state of public health emergency is over and only after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) determines that there is no longer a public health risk to hold the elections. The bill also mandated the election watchdog to hold the election within one year of the bill's passing.

Submitted by parliamentary representative for Hulhumale' constituency Ali Niyaz and approved by 38 parliamentarians that joined the vote, the amendment grants EC permission to hold the election during the ongoing state of public health emergency, provided that safety guidelines imposed by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) are followed.

Additionally, the amendment included a provision which permits the election watchdog to lodge an extension request with the parliament if it believes that the election process cannot be completed before the one-year deadline of May 9. The request must be submitted at least 30 days prior to the date.

The amendment was submitted to the parliament floor after the Parliamentary Committee on Independent Institutions made certain changes following a meeting with the EC members.

During the discussions, EC President Ahmed Shareef expressed concern that the commission might not be able to complete the election process by the stipulated date due to clashes with international examinations and the month of Ramadan.

Although EC had initially planned to hold the elections in March 2021, the commission is currently facing challenges to make the arrangements for the elections since authorities have yet to nullify the public health emergency.

At present, the election is slated for April 3, 2021.

The elections, initially scheduled for April 4, 2020, have been postponed by nearly a year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 4,172 candidates, including independent candidates and those representing political parties, are contesting in the upcoming local council elections. Till date, 71 candidates have withdrawn their candidacies.

In response to the indefinite delay, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified an amendment to Article 231 of the Constitution, extending the terms of incumbent councilors. He also ratified the legislation to delineate the powers of council members who remain in office during the interim period, thus allowing the continued functioning of a decentralised government until such a time the local elections can be held.

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